I came across this quotation by Stephen Levine on someone else’s blog.

There are words in us
That don’t know how
To get to the surface

Words hidden in our marrow
Afraid to show themselves
Afraid the world will come apart
If they are spoken

We all recognise this. We know what shame is.

A dictionary definition of the difference between guilt and shame is that the former is the emotion of doing something wrong, and the latter is the emotion of being something wrong. Guilt is often pilloried as a bad thing when actually it often serves a purpose. What causes the trouble is shame. “Catholic Guilt” is really talking about shame.

“Shame is a common emotional response in adult children
of alcoholic parents, as well as those who grew up with depressed parents,
abuse, religious fanaticism, war, cultural oppression, or
adult or sibling death”

You could probably add to the list. Another blog I follow pointed me in the direction of a critique of the self-improvement industry. It postulated that a lot of the people that get sucked up into that are not really helped at all. The problem is often shame, and reading books explaining where you are going wrong doesn’t actually help that much. There is a paradox in the term self-help. It’s a good helpful idea, but it gets translated into a concept that help can be found in the advice of others.

We get confused between being and doing. Between shame and guilt. No-one (else) can help with the former. The latter, there is some scope.

I once found this piece of advice.

“Do not shame others. Do not shame yourself. Make shaming a behaviour that is simply
unacceptable; forbidden. Challenge yourself and challenge others when they are shaming.”

The reality is that there are precious few words that would really make the “world come apart”.


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